The Grim Keeper: D.C.’s Shy Glizzy writes anthems that would warm a thug’s heart.
The Grim Keeper: D.C.’s Shy Glizzy writes anthems that would warm a thug’s heart.

D.C.’s Shy Glizzy isn’t the kind of rapper that you naturally root for. He’s not a gifted poet, a musical innovator, or a transcendent outlaw. His lyrics generally reduce the world to two groups: people who shoot, and people who get shot at. Money is usually the issue. Nexuses of pleasure (sex, drugs, material goods) are present but not deeply explored. Despite all that austerity, though, he’s compelling, if only because there’s an uncommon sense of melody in everything he does.

Unlike similarly nasal MCs—Lil’ Boosie, Eazy-E—Glizzy doesn’t sound like an entertainer who’s trying to bust down every obstacle in his path. Instead, his partly rapped/partly sung style is more like a tactic for making the best of a shitty situation. He writes worksongs for the street grind, and on Law 2, his latest mixtape, the young MC cements his rep as a keen creator of hooks. (He’s also a judicious picker of beats; only one producer, Atlanta’s equally young Metro Boomin, gets credit for more than one track. Glizzy’s two previous tapes, last year’s Law and Fxck Rap, had similarly diverse production rosters.)

It’s grim and profane stuff, of course, no matter how sing-songy the delivery is. In Glizzy’s corner of D.C.’s underbelly, threats are constant, true power is elusive, and morality often generates some sort of sardonic lyrical payoff. “One of these niggas gonna make me rob ’em/I feel fuckin’ awful,” he says during “Money Problems,” while “Gudda” has this doozy: “Motherfuck a ho/Shoot a bitch nigga/Call a girl a bitch/Well, I ain’t got a sista.”

When he’s not sticking a finger (or a Glock) into any eyeball that gets too close, Glizzy exudes just enough vulnerability to provide a counterpoint to all the harshness. The slow-rolling, quasi-anthemic “I Am D.C.” has uncertainty beneath every note, and when Glizzy rapidly repeats “I run my city,” it’s as if he’s attempting to squeeze out any doubts. “Free the Gang,” with its downcast chorus of “You threw your life away…They took your life away,” sounds like a genuine reflection on somebody’s mortality—even if his own angst is the song’s real topic.

While Glizzy’s growth as a wordsmith is negligible, his choices of backing tracks show a greater willingness to occasionally push beyond the macho, Southern-style synth riffs and skittery percussion that so many of his D.C. contemporaries favor. There are no wild departures, but the opening track “1 Foot In 1 Foot Out” (produced by Karltin Bankz) almost has some of the New Age airiness that Lil’ B has popularized, and “Guns & Roses” (an uncredited production) has a weirdly chopped vocal sample and Clams Casino–style haziness—not to mention a nod to Washington City Paper.

Those moments and others point the way forward, too. If Glizzy ever becomes more than an underground phenom, it’ll be largely because of his flexibility as a vocalist. For now, he seems to find endless inspiration in whatever he’s seen while coming up just north of Fort Dupont Park on 37th Street SE. That bleak viewpoint probably won’t change, but Glizzy definitely has a world of possibilities for how it’s expressed.